It was early, which has always been my hour to begin looking at the world
And of course, even in the darkness, to begin listening into it,
Especially under the pines where the owl lives and sometimes calls out
As I walk by, as he did on this morning. So many gifts!
What do they mean? In the marshes where the pink light was just arriving
The mink with his bristle tail was stalking the soft-eared mice,
And in the pines the cones were heavy, each one ordained to open.
Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.
-- from It was Early, by Mary Oliver
As a child I loved everything about Christmas. It was the most magical time of year. I remember the excitement of driving into Forest Service land to pick out the perfect Christmas tree with my parents. I always wanted something huge. The tree that would actually fit in our house never seemed big enough out in the forest. Then there was the tradition of getting our treasured family ornaments out of storage every year and finding the perfect spot to place each one. I loved the way the tree looked in our living room, covered in mismatched ornaments and lights. I loved the smell of the fir needles wafting through our house. I loved watching as wrapped gifts were placed under the tree and the anticipation of opening them on Christmas morning.
We didn’t go to church and I didn’t know much about Jesus back then. Still, the magic of Christmas was all around, in the decorations, the carols, the lights, and the gifts. And yes, Santa Claus was a big part of it too. I would leave milk and cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve and he always left behind crumbs and a thank you note. I used to get up on Christmas morning at the crack of dawn to see what surprises Santa had left in my stocking. I would fall back asleep on the couch as I waited for my parents to wake up at a more reasonable hour. One early morning I even heard bells as I tiptoed towards the living room.
At some point I stopped getting up early on Christmas morning. I stopped believing in Santa Claus, and I stopped receiving so many gifts from relatives. By the time I was an adult, Christmas had almost entirely lost its magic for me.
By then I knew Jesus and I had no use for the clutter of Christmas trees or decorations, stockings or Secret Santa gift exchanges. I rejected the emptiness of our highly commercialized cultural celebration of Chri$tma$. It was the holiday season I spent working at a busy Portland-area shopping mall that really turned me off. Between the constantly looping holiday video, the grumpy customers, the freeway traffic jams, and the ever-changing sales that never rang up correctly — it was a giant headache. After that, I opted out of the gift giving side of Christmas as much as possible.
Now as a mom of two young children I want to create memories of a magical Christmas season for my own family. I also want our family celebration of Christmas to be something that honors and draws us closer to Christ. Gifts are a part of our family celebration, but our goal is always to have gifts be a side note to the joy of spending time together, rather than a central focus.
I also want to be open to receive gifts this Christmas season, the gifts that come directly from the Lord and that are often overlooked. Sometimes we simply need to open our eyes to become aware of these types of gifts. As Mary Oliver writes, “Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
So I will use this Christmas season as an opportunity to practice gratitude and notice the abundant blessings already present in my life. This weekend I took my daughter roller-skating and she was brave and resilient in the face of many falls. Yesterday I saw a huge double rainbow out my kitchen window. Tonight my husband made us dinner, and later I got to snuggle close to my 2-year-old as I put him to bed.
But it’s not all rosy is it? This morning I cried in my car on the way to work as I thought about the brokenness in our world and my inability to do much about it. Sometimes the world around us feels very dark indeed.
Thankfully Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate the biggest gift of all — Jesus Himself. Emmanuel. God is with us, and He is the light we need to overcome the darkness. It is no accident that we celebrate Christ’s birth so close to the winter solstice, literally the darkest time of year.
John 1: 4-5
“In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”
Jesus, redeemer, bringer of hope, bringer of light. Let us be open to receive the gifts that you have for us. And let us be filled with your light, so that we can be a light to others when they need one.
About the Author
Ursula Crawford and her husband Spencer have two young children, and their family enjoys playing hide-and-seek and dancing in the living room. She works as a communications and events coordinator with the University of Oregon. You can read more from Ursula at motherbearblog.com.